Should you do international SEO?

under International SEO.

If you are looking for an opportunity to expand your business' web presence to an international audience, International SEO may be a good option. While it may seem like a foreign concept (pun intended), it's actually easier than you think. That said, it doesn't mean that everyone should be doing international SEO.

That said, if you know you need to reach an international audience and expand your business' web presence, having a solid international SEO process can offer an impactful way to scale and reach new foreign audiences.

Let's take a look at the considerations and elements you'll need to launch a successful international SEO process.

Research and Analysis

An international SEO process should begin with some foundational research and analysis to validate the goals of reaching an international audience. Consider the following questions during this phase.

What are my brand's audience goals?

Ask yourself what expanded audience your business is attempting to reach. This could relate to a language(s), country(ies), or both. Take a look at Google Analytics to see which countries/languages are vying for more information on your website.

Use Google Analytics to evaluate your current international organic search visibility, traffic, and conversions by looking at the following:

  • Countries and languages are feeding organic traffic
  • Time-based trends and volume of organic search traffic by country and language
  • Page popularity and keyword trends for top countries and languages
  • Organic CTR/conversion rate for top countries and languages
  • Time-based trends and volume of organic CTR/conversion rate for top countries and languages

Can my brand deliver a consistent product/service experience to an international audience?

Many brands find that international SEO is a short-term win with long-term woes. This happens when international clients are not met by an equal customer experience. This can ruin a brand's reputation.

Consider whether or not you have the resources to create an impactful interface, marketing experience, and customer service support in the target language.

For example, evaluate the capacity and bandwidth of internal teams and vendors to produce country/language-specific content that caters to individual audiences. Remember that auto-translation simply doesn't cut it when it comes to international SEO, so adequately translated content is a big consideration.

Also consider your ability to manage multiple subdomains, subdirectories, servers or ccTLDs when rolling out an international SEO program. Brand reputation, server signals, website performance (run regionally), user experience should be top priorities, and the other "Core SEO" audits should be applied across your efforts. An updated analytics audit should also be run once, as a lot of attribution tactics will change in the transition to international SEO.If consistent attention cannot be paid across the board to keep each site up-to-date and accurate, you may need another strategy.

Is there a strong international link acquisition effort? As an SEO, you know link building is an important effort for your English-based site, but don't forget it will matter for all international sites as well. You'll need the ability to acquire links from "site.fr" sites (in French) for the French version of your website. Do you have an inbound strategist that can manage this process for your international SEO efforts?

Does my brand have domain authority to spare?

There's no silver bullet here, but this is a common woe known as "the willow tree disease". The overall authority of a site - and its ability to rank - is divided by the total number of pages. In this way, expanding too rapidly can be harmful. You may want to re-think international SEO if:

  • The brand's primary site is already struggling to rank in its home country.
  • The site has a very low Domain Authority/Rating (relative to ranking competitors) as reported by Ahrefs or Moz OSE.
  • The site has an extremely high number of pages indexed, relative to Domain Authority noted in the second bullet. Significantly more pages will divide up Domain Authority and spread an effort too thin as well.

Have you decided what search engines matter, and to what degree?

One common international SEO mistake is assuming that Google is the #1 priority everywhere. It's not. Luckily, most search engines rely on mostly the same ranking signals, but this will still have an impact strategy and attribution. Check this chart to be sure. Consider the following when expanding your international SEO efforts:

Google is an important consideration, but is by no means the end-all-be-all when it comes to international SEO.

How to Launch Your International SEO Plan

Congrats! If you've considered the above questions carefully and come to the conclusion that you need to kick-off an international SEO plan, the next step is to get started.

Start With Subdomains Within gTLDs

When building out your first site for international SEO, there are several methods to consider. It can be a good idea to start out with language/region-isolated subdirectories rather than diving right in to ccTLDs. Remember, these subdirectories can always be re-written to ccTLDs later.

Organizing your site by subdomains within your gTLD (e.g. es.site.com) can be easier than setting up an entirely new ccTLD. With the subdomain option, you can use Google Search Console geotargeting and you can use different server locations to optimize by region. At this stage in the game, it can be the easiest way to separate location-specific sites.

The downside here is that subdomains can be confusing to users who may not always recognize the geotargeting signals within the URL. For example, with the URL de.site.com, it may not be immediately apparent to the user what "de" means. Still, this option is typically the best route for building out location-specific sites when getting started with international SEO.

Consider Subdirectories Within gTLDs

Another path of lesser resistance is to use subdirectories with your gTLD. Similarly to subdomains, this option is easy to set up and syncs well with Google Search Console geotargeting. Since this option uses the same host throughout the site, it also requires less maintenance.

That said, there's a similar downside to the subdomain option. The URL-based geotargeting is not always clear to users. What's more, since subdirectories only allow for a single server location, the separation of sites gets a little stickier.

Take a few moments to review all SEO audits to plan out complementing pieces of strategy.

Once you've run through these considerations, you should have a solid idea of whether or not international SEO makes sense for your business. If the results point to starting international SEO, you should also have a basic foundation for getting started. For more information on International SEO, download our handy ebook [LINK].